Washington Nationals: Shawn Kelley to be healthy for 2018

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WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 13: Shawn Kelley #27 of the Washington Nationals throws to a Atlanta Braves batter in the ninth inning at Nationals Park on June 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 13: Shawn Kelley #27 of the Washington Nationals throws to a Atlanta Braves batter in the ninth inning at Nationals Park on June 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /
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Washington Nationals reliever Shawn Kelley struggled through injuries in 2017, but expects to be healthy for 2018. Here’s what that means for the Nats.

When the Washington Nationals signed Shawn Kelley to a three year, $15 million contract prior to the 2016 season, it appeared to be a decent signing. Kelley had always been a respectable reliever, but was coming off of a breakout season with the San Diego Padres.

A bit of risk came with signing Kelley though; he had already undergone two Tommy John surgeries.

Kelley got off to a phenomenal start with the Nats, pitching to a 2.64 ERA in 67 games in 2016. He was an elite set-up man and all of a sudden, the deal looked like a bargain.

Then, came the October scare. No, not the Nats once again failing to make it out of the NLDS; Kelley suffered an injury in game five against the Dodgers and people speculated that it could be his UCL.

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Kelley said he could not feel his arm, which is a telltale sign of a torn UCL, which would require a third Tommy John surgery and effectively end his career. Thankfully, it was not his UCL and he would be healthy for 2017.

Unfortunately, short of tearing his UCL again, 2017 could not have gone worse for Kelley. He entered Spring Training as the favorite to win the closer’s job, but eventually lost out to Blake Treinen. After losing the closer’s job, he got off to a rough start.

His rough start lasted throughout the entire 2017 season, as he pitched to a 7.27 ERA in 33 games. He also allowed home runs at an unprecedented rate, serving up 12 long balls in just 26 innings.

Kelley battled minor injuries throughout 2017, including a lower back strain and a trapezius strain, but mostly remained healthy. That is, until he suffered another seemingly serious injury at the end of the season.

In Kelley’s final appearance, September 22 in New York, he suffered an injury and once again, people speculated it was his UCL. Fortunately, the Nats later announced that it was just bone chips in his elbow and he would not require a third Tommy John surgery.

Some pitchers would elect to undergo surgery to remove the bone chips, but Kelley declined surgery. With two major surgeries already under his belt, a third could be detrimental to his career.

Instead of surgery, Kelley received a stem cell injection in his elbow, according to Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post.

If the injection works and Kelley is healthy for 2018, he could be a fantastic reliever in the back-end of the Nats’ bullpen. He had a nightmare season in 2017, but he was believed to be pitching through injuries for much of the season.

Assuming he is healthy and has a bounce-back season, he would most likely split the seventh inning with fellow oft-injured reliever Koda Glover. Kelley would also effectively serve as a tremendous acquisition. After 2017, the Nats should be prepared to not receive any production from him, but be ready for him to possibly be a pleasant surprise.

Another benefit of Kelley being healthy and productive is that he will help make up for the loss of Brandon Kintzler, as the Nats are not expected to be able to re-sign him.

Next: Looking back at Stephen Strasburg's 2017 season

Shawn Kelley had a terrific first season in the nation’s capital in 2016, but struggled mightily in 2017. Now that he received a stem cell injection, he is expected to be healthy and productive once again in 2018. If he is returns to form, he will add to the arsenal of lockdown relievers in the back-end of the Nats’ bullpen.

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